Money Really Isn’t Everything

In Matthew 22:21, Yeshua is quoted as saying “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto (the) GOD the things that are GOD’s” (KJV). This verse has been cited widely to support the notion of the separation of church and state, which I believe is a valid view, but there are other nuances that are often lost.

Part of that nuance is derived from the preceding verse: “Shew me the tribute money” (KJV) or “Display the currency of taxation” (Literal Alt). According to christswords.com, the Greek word translated as “money” derives “…from a word that means “anything sanctioned by current custom or usage”, “institution”, “coin”, “money,” and “full legal measure.” The closest English equivalent is “currency.” It then points out that “The meaning of “money” is the same as “custom” and “full legal measures.” Christ is conflating the use of money with the law and custom.” So, Christ set up the “money verse” by using a turn of phrase to link the physical money to both the law (government) and customs (culture).

In verse 21, we immediately bump into another nuance having to do with the meaning of the Greek word translated as Caesar. You wouldn’t think that could be very ambiguous, but context adds a shade of meaning not immediately obvious to modern readers but which would have jumped out immediately to those listening to Christ within the context of Roman Judea. That’s because the Roman coin in question would have had two important features which give the word Caesar a double meaning. The first feature is the image of Tiberius, the emperor at the time. This was the literal image of the Roman government, since Tiberius was the physical embodiment of the government, for all intents and purposes. The second feature would be the Latin inscription, most likely “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”, aka, the son of the Roman god Augustus. So, we have the son of the GOD referring to a coin minted in honor of the Roman son of a god.

So, Christ employed a double entendre by using the word Caesar, which meant both the government and the son of the Roman god in order to bring home the point that those that would trade in the coin of the government must repay to that worldly “god” out of the value provided by that “god”/government and likewise must repay to the Kingdom of the GOD out of the value provided by that GOD.

So why does this matter? It all has to do with authority and how several Biblical verses are interpreted. Specifically, given recent events, I want to focus on Romans 13:1-2:

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (NIV)

What does Matthew 22:21 tell us about these verses from Romans?

First, Christ’s words make a crucial contextual connection between the man, Caesar, and the government. When Paul, a Roman citizen, refers to “the governing authorities”, it is clear to his audience in first century Rome exactly who he was referring to: Tiberius. Granted, this also included all Roman officials, but in that world, their authority derived directly from Caesar. And, in the world view of Paul, Caesar’s authority derived directly from the GOD. This view of government authority prevails even to this day in many monarchies.

So, Paul is making this statement with the clear view that Caesar was God’s anointed, even if Tiberius would have been insulted by this idea. So, in that context, it’s clear that Paul is saying that the man, Caesar, that makes the rules is the one responsible to the GOD for the decisions made in ruling. This is important. Since Caesar’s word was law, he also was held responsible for the implications of that law in the eyes of the GOD.

Second, it brings home the importance of the fact that we don’t live in the Roman Empire. While I would hope this isn’t a surprise to anyone reading this, it is an extremely important point, and here’s why: we don’t have a man anointed as our ruler. Our laws do not derive their authority based upon the will of a single man. They derive their authority based upon the will of us, the people, within the constraints of our constitution. So, in the current context, Romans 13:1-2 would need to be rewritten as something like:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authority of the laws of the land as enacted by duly elected officials representing the majority will of our citizens, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God through the power vested in the citizens of our country. Consequently, whoever rebels (in an unlawful manner) against the authority is rebelling against what God, through the will of the people, has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.

This wording is extremely important since in Rome, Caesar was the anointed authority, but in a representative democratic republic, we have no “god” through which the authority of the GOD is channeled. Instead, we have the constitution and our representative government that exists, not to rule the citizenry, but rather to serve it. The President is not a monarch. His word is not law. Neither does the congress rule. The only voice of the law is OUR VOICE. We are the anointed.

Consequently, just as Caesar was held responsible in the eye of the GOD for his decisions, so too are we held responsible for the decisions made by our government which are reflected in the actions and integrity of our elected officials. If our government promotes justice and equity and defends human life and dignity, then we, the anointed, get the credit, but if our government promotes injustice and inequity or violates human life and dignity, then we, the anointed, will be held accountable.

That is why it is so important for all of us, the anointed in this country, to hold our public servants responsible for ensuring that justice and equity are expressed in our laws and policies in a way that promote human rights and dignity. If we fail in this responsibility, we, the anointed, will pay the price.

Even if you don’t believe in the GOD, or any deity, this still holds true. If we fail to regulate those that represent our will in a way that promotes that which is good and fair and just, then we are condemning ourselves to suffering the consequences of allowing our government to become a vehicle of oppression and suffering.

Abuse invites further abuse. Injustice leads to further injustice. Eventually, a society that does not correct its course and reign in a government employing soulless persecution and abuse, will collapse into either totalitarianism or anarchy. In either case, a democratic republic that allows this to happen will fail.

Tying in another major theme of scripture, hospitality to foreigners (immigrants), magnifies the impact of the need to ensure our government is treating people, both citizens and non, humanely and justly. Right now, that isn’t happening on our border with Mexico. Right now, we the anointed, bear the consequence of inhumane actions acted out against immigrants seeking asylum. We will have to answer for our actions before the GOD, because we are the voice of the government.

I have heard many defenders of the zero tolerance policy change say things like “But these people were breaking the law, so they should be prosecuted.” Let’s examine that claim, shall we?

Facts:

  1. What is the definition of an asylum seeker? Answer: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/asylum-seeker/
  2. What are the criteria used to determine the eligibility of an asylum seeker to be accepted by the United States as a refugee? Answer: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum
  3. Up until recently, victims of domestic or gang violence were included, but a new policy recently announced by A.G. Sessions rescinded their inclusion as official reasons for seeking sanctuary.
  4. What law is the subject of the new zero tolerance policy? Answer: http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/crime-enter-illegally.html, but the most cogent part is summed up as such, “For the first improper entry offense, the person can be fined (as a criminal or civil penalty), or imprisoned for up to six months, or both. This is considered a misdemeanor under federal law.”
  5. What changed with the introduction of the new policy? Answer: Under the previous policy, first offenders of this law who voluntarily turned themselves in to border patrol claiming to petition for asylum were routinely subjected to civil proceedings, part of which was intended to attempt to evaluate the validity of the asylum request. This was especially true if the asylum seeking adult was accompanied by a minor. The change in policy resulted in 100% of these cases being processed under criminal law which triggered the required separation of children from adults who were jailed awaiting court proceedings.

“So, what is the big deal?”, I’ve heard defenders of this policy ask. “After all, aren’t children routinely separated from parents who get arrested for breaking the law?”

Good questions. Let’s examine the premise behind them. Yes, many parents, regardless of citizen status, have had custody of their children rescinded due to incarceration as a result of breaking the law. But, let’s be a bit more specific.

In general, the rule in our country (and most of the world) has been to only separate children from parents in extreme circumstances since it is a well established fact that doing so can do permanent psychological and emotional damage to children not to mention the extreme turmoil caused to the parent. One man has already committed suicide due to this policy separating him from his child.

Notice the clause in the law shown above that says “as a criminal or civil penalty“. The whole reason that is included in the law is to provide for enforcement discretion. The same sort of discretionary clauses are often included in laws, especially misdemeanors, as a means of avoiding criminal prosecution of everything from jay walking to speeding to trespassing.

It is very rare indeed for anyone to be subjected to criminal prosecution for a first misdemeanor offense and usually only occurs if there is some aggravating factor, such as driving 90 mph in a 20 mph active school zone.

So, the change in policy was tantamount to announcing a zero tolerance policy on speeding, without regard to aggravating factors, where every driver pulled over would be immediately arrested, carted off to jail, car impounded, and children, if present, processed by CPS since they can’t be booked into jail with the parent. I think it is safe to say that pretty much every citizen would be up in arms if that policy were to be announced.

So, attempting to defend the zero tolerance policy by pretending that the only alternative our government had in enforcing the law was to press criminal charges is simple disingenuous. This is especially true when you consider that the policy change was announced and enforced suddenly, with no grace period to allow for the word to spread amongst potential asylum seekers. In the past, such a drastic change in policy would have included a grace period out of humanitarian concerns.

Instead, springing this policy suddenly with no grace period appears to have been done with the intent of ensuring that unwitting asylum seekers illegally crossing accompanied by children would be arrested, resulting in separation from their children. Statements from the president himself indicate that this was done both as a “deterrent” and in an effort to gain political leverage on Democrats in an attempt to force them to fund the president’s border wall.

There is no reasonable way to justify enacting a policy with the express intent of causing innocent children to suffer in order to gain political leverage.

Another claim I have heard out of defenders of this policy is that these children will only be separated from their parents for a couple of days at most. While that may be some sort of ideal goal, it is not the reality on the ground. An article from vox, quotes Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families as telling reporters “that while his department is “under a legal obligation” to place children “expeditiously” with a sponsor, “we actually don’t have a time limit in terms of days” that children are allowed to stay in HHS care.” There are multiple reports of parents being deported without their children and of children disappearing into the system.

This is completely unacceptable. We, the anointed, will be held accountable. This is our government instituted to reflect our will.

So, what’s with the title of this post, “Money Really Isn’t Everything”?

I find it amusing that Yeshua used a Roman coin to make a point about value which shows that money, the coin, is not the only measure of value. There is another “coin” of value, Love, which is provided by the GOD and which requires us to return like value to the GOD by lavishing that Love on others. Money truly is not everything. The more important coin is Love. And, since we are the anointed, that love must also be reflected in our laws.

Finally, I leave you with one last Biblical passage that brings home what is really at stake here. From the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

We are the anointed. We are responsible.

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Love Your Enemies – Yes, Even Nazis

In light of recent events, with tiki torch waving hate groups marching the streets of Charlottesville chanting racist slogans, clashing with counter-protesters, and the tragic death of a young lady in the prime of life, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to hate the haters. It’s the “natural” response. It feels good to meet hate with hate. It feels right to give them a taste of their own medicine. And it is absolutely the exact opposite of helpful.

In Matthew 5, Yeshua is quoted as saying:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This may be the most difficult commandment found in the entire Bible… and the single most powerful. When you hate a hater, you simply justify their hatred. Your hatred reinforces their personal world view, that hate is justified, that it is powerful, and that even the “good” people hate. This simply fans the flames of their hatred.

The late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr put it this way: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It is not at all easy to hate the sin and not the sinner, but that is exactly what we must learn to do. We must learn to love the hater even as we oppose the hate. It is the only way to “be perfect”. So, go forth, and spread love. Be perfect.

Shalom.

*** Copyright 2017 (c) by Joel R. Hall ***

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Wedding Toast

A toast to Jeremy my son,
And to Eren, his beloved one,
Who met in school at Centenary
And now, at last, have come to marry.
So now, my son, I offer this,
A prayer for lifelong wedded bliss.
May you be wise and full of grace,
And ever find in her fair face,
A source of joy and love so true
That only she can be for you.
And to Eren, now let me say
How glad I am to see this day,
When my dear son, a source of pride,
Tomorrow takes you as his bride.
None could bestow greater joy
Than you have brought my darling boy.
So now allow me to make clear
How grateful I am to you dear
For how you’ve blessed, not just my son,
But all my family, everyone.
So when at last you say “I do”
Just know that I will then call you
My daughter, and let me be clear,
We couldn’t love you more, my dear.

Welcome to the family.
May God bless this union.
May the Lord bless this house.
Cheers!

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 The Fruit of Distrust

We live in a time of turmoil, violence, and mayhem. Like other such times in the history of the world, there is one central truth that dictates the increase in chaos.

We see it everywhere. Suspicion of “the other”. A pervasive pessimism that colors every thought and prevents even the possibility of building understanding. It is like a fever that has swept this world and is carrying everyone inexorably toward a cataclysmic, chaotic shattering of all that is good or wise or beautiful about this world. This fever is driving us all apart and locking peoples into paths of confrontation without opportunity for even hoping for common ground. This fever urges us to destroy “the other” like a spiritual version of rabies.

This fever has a name: distrust.

It is the natural born child of fear, that all destroying emotion second only to love in power. But even though love is stronger than fear, that does not mean that fear is powerless to quench love for a season, employing distrust to turn loving hearts into furnaces of hate.

But this is not a new story. It has been around since time began. In the words of the Teacher, son of David: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to love and a time to hate.”

No, this is not new. Nothing under the Sun is new.

But, it is sad. This fever called distrust is always a sad fever, burning up the hearts and minds of everyone afflicted. But how do I know this fever’s name? How do I pronounce my diagnosis with such certainty?

Like any disease, this particular fever manifests one very distinctive symptom that is a certain tell. The distrust fever may start subtly, with people agreeing to disagree over matters of opinion, but over time, the sure fire symptom is that civility grows in shorter and shorter supply while the rhetoric grows increasingly hostile and personal. Finally, it reaches an unmistakable crescendo when facts themselves can no longer be agreed upon.

Welcome to full on, no holds barred, Annie grab your gun, chip on the shoulder, smash mouth hostility. This is distrust fever in full force. I’m talking 106 degree Fahrenheit, break the thermometer, brow scorching, brain frying FEVER.

And it does indeed make me sad. So many casualties. So little love.So little TRUST.

As I look at this sad world, caught up in this fever, one of the saddest symptoms I see in my own nation is the use of a phrase I keep seeing repeated over and over: “liberal mainstream media”. The very fact that the phrase is a literal oxymoron never even seems to occur to those uttering it. This is a fiction that has been put forth by those with a vested interest in sowing doubt and division in our society.

I can say this with absolutely no sense of superiority or condescension since for quite a while, I was one of the people repeating this phrase. And it wasn’t my own vastly superior intellect that rescued me from the clutches of the fever either. It was the very humbling experience of coming face to face with consequences wrought when good people, people I came to love, suffered because enough other good people chose to believe this phrase and, in doing so, abandoned balance, replete with all its messiness and occasional uncertainty, in favor of the friendly reassurance of rightness offered up like a big friendly hug out on the fringes of the wild frontiers of “news”.

These “guardians of the conservative truth” (yes, I know there are liberal sites also but they aren’t mainstream either) – where everyone marches to the same music and knows the secret handshake of the truly informed – make no bones about their agenda. Isn’t that refreshing. And by telling you that, they can then turn right around and tell you with a knowing wink, that ALL news organizations really have an agenda but only the honest ones admit it. Thus it follows, that since the mainstream media doesn’t admit their agenda and since their “balanced” news doesn’t always embrace the same “facts” as the honest, agenda driven conservative media, then they must, by default be… gasp!… “LIBERAL!” Oh, the shame. The scandal! The horror!!!

Really?

I won’t claim that there is no bias whatsoever in mainstream journalism (that would be absurd!) but I will most certainly maintain that the bias that does exist there falls both ways for the simple reason that reporters are human and humans are biased and do not all share the same inclinations. Mainstream journalist, while research has shown them to be slightly more to the left of center than the average citizen, are still far from being all a bunch of leftist radicals. Further, despite their personal biases, the mainstream media in this country has maintained a reputation for fairness rivaled by very few the world over. They are still the best source for getting relatively fair and balanced coverage of national news… if only anyone will listen

And I personally have less excuse for falling for the “liberal mainstream media” myth than most as having been, in a former life, both a student of journalism and, briefly, a practitioner. I witnessed up close and personal the ethos of the professionals around me. How could I forget how truly dedicated the journalists I knew were to the concept of balance? How could I fall prey to claims that they were somehow the enemy of truth?

When I did finally come to my senses, I realized that my own arrogance led me down that path. I was, quite plainly, abashed at my folly. I have always claimed to be a truth seeker and here I was, choosing to NOT listen to dissenting voices. How had I let this happen?

The irony of the answer is that while I was ranting incessantly  about the bias of the “liberal mainstream media,” I was the very one knowingly and purposefully seeking out only news tailored to my OWN biases. Truth seeker? I think not. and so I changed. I resolved to doggedly dig into stories and really try to hear all sides (there are rarely only two), because failure to do so is exactly why fake news can proliferate. Don’t like the facts, simply go shop for a site that will give you “alternative facts”.

So how do we treat the fever?

I’m not sure I have a complete answer but one thing I know with certainty. We must start by choosing, as citizens, to stop actively distrusting the institutions that helped shape us into one of the greatest nations that has ever existed, otherwise we will destroy this country and everything it stands for. We must stand as a house united and unity requires trust and respect. Failure to do so will drive us further into partisan division made more rigid by a refusal to earnestly seek to understand other points of view.

George Washington famously warned of the danger of love for party overriding love of country. I am sick at heart to be a witness to the sagacity of his insight. I love America the beautiful, land of the free and home of the brave. I certainly hope she can survive this threat to her very soul. And I’m not talking about Trump here. I’m talking about the real problem, that rampant fever, that destroyer of nations: Distrust.

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An Open Letter to Evangelical Republicans

I have been contemplating writing an “open letter” detailing my feelings of dismay at the embrace given to Trump by the evangelical right. I’ve prayed about it and mulled it over at length, but the opportunity to write my thoughts down just hasn’t materialized. And then, I saw this post written by another blogger that perfectly expresses everything I was planning on writing. I share this man’s heart. I, too, feel compelled by the Christ I know and love to reject practically every single aspect of Trump, and I, too, am deeply disappointed in all who claim Christ as Lord but yet embrace a man so at odds with every single thing Christ modeled and calls us to be. Please read this letter and listen with your heart. My thanks to the author.

pontifications. and stuff.

I want to preface this letter with two caveats. The first is that I hope I’m wrong about what I see coming down the pike. The second is that if I’m right, I pray I will have the courage to live the convictions that I write, because God knows I am a person full of fear.

Dear Evangelical Republicans,

I grew up one of you. I was raised to think conservatively–to support the troops, to protest gay marriage, to fight against the great injustice of higher taxes for the wealthy. But as I’ve pursued a theological education over the last seven years, we’ve grown apart. Much that I once held as self-evident truth from the very hand of God, I now disagree with–and the convictions that do we still share, I hold from a much more nuanced perspective. I’ve learned to live with the disconnect from my youth, and I…

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Grandad’s “Dirty” Joke

My Grandad Reagan Otts was one of the most gentle, kind, laid back, wonderful human beings God ever created. Rarely did I ever witness him lose his temper and even more rarely did I ever hear him curse. (The only time I ever did was during a harrowing encounter with a particularly rude motorist while driving in Dallas traffic.) But rarest of all was even the hint of an off color joke coming from him.

While on a recent trip to Colorado with some family members, I was reminded of the closest thing to a dirty joke that Grandad ever told. Upon hearing it retold by my brother, I laughed anew as I realized how truly clever a man he was. And so, without further adieu, allow me to share with you my Grandad’s “dirty” joke.

**********************

A newcomer to Alaska decided to capture a polar bear. He devised a plan to build a trap, hired a guide to take him to an ice sheet frequented by trophy sized bears, and then sent him away with instructions to return in one week.

When the guide returned, he was dismayed to see that his client had somehow excavated a deep pit in the ice over which he had assembled a tripod of long poles that held suspended directly over the center of the pit a large chunk of fresh meat. Surrounding the pit, set back about 10 feet from the edge was what looked like a low, circular igloo with multiple doors facing inward toward the pit. He had never seen anything like it and asked his client, “How in the world do you plan on trapping a polar bear with that?”

The client replied, “Easy. Ya see this little igloo I built around the pit?”

The guide nodded.

The client continued, “Well, I’m going to hide in that igloo until a polar bear comes along to try to get that meat over the pit, and while the bear is focused on reaching that meat, I’m going to circle around behind, pop out the nearest door, and kick him right in the ice hole.”

**********************

I know it’s about as corny as corny can be, but it made me laugh just because of who it was that told it. As an added bonus, it provided my brother and I with an inside joke: “Don’t be an ice hole.”

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Belle of the Ball

I graduated from Texas A&M University. Yes, I’m an Aggie. But not just any Aggie. I grew up in College Station as the son of a Junction Boy. I used to play with the son of Earl Rudder, the college president and a legend in Aggieland. You can’t get much more Aggie than that. As such, I am well steeped in Aggie lore. One such example has to do with a tradition that, as rare as such a thing is, died out: coeds being bussed in from TWU to attend grand balls thrown in their honor.

I ran across an article about this the other day and it reminded me of a funny story my mother used to tell. The story occurred in the mid-80s while she was working for the university. Allow me to share it here to the best of my recall.

While on her way to lunch atop Rudder Tower, she found herself awaiting the elevator with an elderly woman accompanied by a middle aged lady. From the conversation my mother overheard while they were waiting, it became apparent that they were the mother and grandmother of a coed visiting from out of town and that both of them were married to Aggies themselves.

Before the elevator arrived, the three of them were joined by a very large, black cadet. The elderly woman appeared to take great interest in the new arrival, looking him over from head to toe.

After noticing his senior boots, she turned to him and said, “Oh… You must be a senior in the corp, young man.”

“Yes, maam.”, he replied politely.

After a brief, somewhat awkward pause, she spoke again. “My husband was in the corp back in the 30’s.”

The cadet smiled and said, “Is that so?”

“Yes,” she continued. “But there weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The cadet looked a bit shocked and uncomfortable as the daughter turned to her mother with a look of complete mortification and ground out “Mother!” from between clenched teeth. She turned to the cadet in full blush and said, “I am SO sorry.”

In true gallant fashion, the cadet recovered his composure and said, “It’s quite alright ma’am. Your mother is right. There probably weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The awkward silence that followed was mercifully ended by the arrival of the elevator. Conversation ceased while the party boarded. The only floor selected was the top floor, the site of the restaurant. Just as the doors were closing, the elderly woman, whom had obviously been lost in thought reminiscing about the Aggieland of her youth, spoke up again, turning to the cadet, perhaps hoping to show she had meant no harm in her previous statement.

“I hardly recognize the campus nowadays. I met my husband while he was a student here. They would bus us in from TWU, where I was a student. Oh, I used to love to visit. All those handsome young cadets.”

She paused while the cadet nodded and smiled. All would have been well had she simply stopped there. But, unfortunately for her horrified daughter, she asked, in a voice aquiver with the excitement of her past fond memories, “Tell me, do you boys still have big balls here like they used to?”

The only saving grace was that the elevator had arrived and the doors opened right as this question was posed. Without hesitation, the daughter grabbed her mother by the arm and broke for the door, only uttering a hasty “Oh my god. I am so, SO sorry.”

My mother knew the real meaning of the question, but we will never know what that poor cadet was thinking.

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